October 11, 2005
CORAL GABLES - One of Larry Coker's biggest regrets as a head coach during his first four seasons was not playing tailback Frank Gore in the 2002 postseason at the Fiesta Bowl, with the national championship at stake.
Gore, an instinctive runner who left Miami a year early and was selected in the 2005 NFL draft as the first pick of the third round by the San Francisco 49ers, had spent all of the 2002 season recovering from an ACL injury he had suffered that March.
He was healthy enough to play during the second half of that season, and he was killing Miami's scout team while simulating the running style of Ohio State's Maurice Clarett. But the Hurricanes already had Willis McGahee, so they decided to redshirt Gore to preserve a year of his eligibility.
However, when McGahee suffered an ACL injury of his own late in Miami's 31-24 overtime loss to the Buckeyes, and UM's running game was sputtering with backup Jarrett Payton, Coker wanted to use Gore. He wanted to burn the redshirt for that one game, but he ultimately decided against it.
Then Miami wasn't able to punch the ball in at the goal line during the second OT, which cost UM the game and its sixth national championship. Coker always second-guesses himself for that one.
Three years later, it seems that Coker is not willing to risk the same mistake. UM recently opted to play sophomore tailback Andrew Johnson against Duke. Johnson, who is 10 months into rehabilitating the ACL injury he suffered in December, had been impressing the coaches while working on the scout team for two weeks, after being cleared for contact.
Johnson played sparingly last season as a true freshman, gaining 41 yards on 16 carries, which means he would have been eligible for a medical redshirt if he saw no action this season. But Coker believes that Johnson's combination of speed (4.4 range in the 40-yard dash) and size (5-11, 210) might make him UM's most promising back. Therefore, he decided the week of the Duke game to play him.
"He's a home run hitter, and that's something we don't have right now," Coker said, days before Johnson backed up his coach's claims, gaining 46 yards on his first carry against the Blue Devils.
"I called touchdown, but it wasn't meant to be," said Johnson, who was caught at Duke's 35-yard line by a defender who took a good angle.
Johnson finished the 52-7 rout with 56 yards on four carries, and that performance could help him leapfrog over fellow second-year backs Charlie Jones and Derron Thomas because of his speed. It also helps that Johnson is a decent blocker, whereas every other UM back is struggling with pass protection.
"I'm not all the way back, because if I was I wouldn't have been caught," said Johnson, who was the 2003 Pennsylvania indoor 60-meter champion, with a time of 6.90 seconds. "I would have picked up my legs and been gone, but this was a good gauge to see where I was at. It's a blessing to just be out there. Some people don't come back from these things."
Johnson's emergence likely will lead the Hurricanes to dust off some of their stretch plays and outside runs. Tyrone Moss, UM's featured back, is at his best when he stays between the tackles, taking advantage of his physical, grinding style.
DEHYDRATION AGAIN HURTS HESTER
Devin Hester, one of the nation's top punt and kickoff returners last season, broke out of a slump by returning four punts for 101 yards in Miami's win over Duke.
Two of his returns set up UM touchdowns in the second quarter, but Hester was good for only half a day of work. Following a dazzling 73-yard scamper, which was reduced to 43 yards via a holding penalty, Hester left the game because of dehydration.
That marked the third straight week the cornerback/return ace was limited by leg cramps. UM initially thought the problem was caused by overuse, but considering how sparingly he was used on defense against Duke, it became apparent that something else might be at the root of the problem. Hester, a junior who is averaging 17.8 yards on nine returns, expects to be evaluated by specialists.
"I'm drinking water, and I'm still getting dehydrated in the first quarter," said Hester, who also has had his role on offense limited for the past two games. "We're trying to figure out what's causing me to dehydrate so easily."
Coker said players with minimal body fat usually have dehydration problems, and he estimated that Hester's body fat is around five percent. Former UM standout receiver Roscoe Parrish, whose body fat was around four percent, was plagued by the same problem, but not to the same degree.
GARCIA PROVIDES VALUABLE RESOURCE
Pete Garcia, who had worked for 11 seasons at UM in various capacities with the football program, has been hired to serve as an associate athletic director.
Garcia, 44, spent the past four seasons working as the Cleveland Browns' vice president of player personnel and football development, for former UM coach Butch Davis.
Garcia, who headed Davis' recruiting efforts at Miami and served as his right-hand man with the Hurricanes and the Browns, was instrumental in finding talent during UM's recent unprecedented run of first-round picks in the NFL draft.
Some of those players - the complete list includes defensive end Jerome McDougle, safety Ed Reed, tailback Clinton Portis, tight end Jeremy Shockey and safety Sean Taylor - weren't highly recruited prospects. Garcia seemed to have a knack for unearthing and securing hidden gems while serving as the program's director of operations.
An assistant under Davis, Coker particularly supported Garcia's return because of his eye for detail, which could be beneficial in all aspects of the athletic program.
Garcia will be in charge of marketing, negotiation of contracts, ticket sales, internet operations and media relations, plus other duties as assigned. He's also watching football practice on a semi-regular basis and has pointed out a few things to Jeff Merk, whom he hand-picked as his replacement as director of operations five years ago. Reportedly, those pointers already have helped improve the team's day-to-day activities.
"His expertise is available," Miami athletic director Paul Dee said, "and certainly we expect to use it."
It will be interesting to see what happens when Davis returns to the college coaching ranks, considering his long-standing relationship with Garcia. The fact that Garcia took a post at UM, which became available when Ross Bjork took a similar job with UCLA, probably means that Davis won't be re-entering the coaching ranks any time soon, despite speculation that he's the frontrunner for the Arkansas job if Houston Nutt gets fired.
KEY HOOPS PLEDGE FINDS TROUBLE
The Miami basketball team's top commitment is embroiled in a nasty fight that could cost him his high school eligibility this season.
Edwin Rios, a Class of 2007 point guard who established himself as one the nation's premier prospects last year while leading Miami (Fla.) High to the Class 6A state title, left the basketball powerhouse earlier this fall. He transferred to Hollywood (Fla.) Chaminade-Madonna, a private school in another (nearby) county, after complaining that his concerns over security issues at Miami High weren't handled appropriately by school officials.
Rios' parents also claim that they are seeking a better educational environment for Edwin, who committed to the Hurricanes this summer, but it turns out he's being joined by two other members - Max Groebe and Bo Reliford - of his prestigious AAU club, Team Breakdown. Now his old high school is claiming that he was recruited, which could be the case, and has abstained from signing a waiver that would allow him to play this season.
Rios' parents have hired an attorney to settle the matter. While attending Chaminade-Madonna might help Rios qualify a little easier because of the school's rigorous academic standards, it's likely that the Hurricanes don't care for whom Rios is playing, as long as he's on the court somewhere this season to further his development.
Expect UM coach Frank Haith to follow this situation closely, since Rios (a prep junior) is viewed as the cornerstone of the Hurricanes' long-term future on the hardwood.